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Perfecting Relationships: Q&A with Matt Mandel

unFed Vice President of Operations Matt Mandel brings both professional and personal experience to the business of the company that has registered the term “Perfect Produce,” having grown up in and coming back to the industry.

Now he has helped lead SunFed Produce, as well as grown awareness and connection for the Mexican-American produce bridge as the Past Chairman of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

What does this produce expert have to say on the rapidly-growing organic sector and how his company looks to help optimize the opportunity for retailers? Here’s what I learned.

How can retailers benefit by not only having a grower/shipper partner, but finding the right partner?

Perfect Eggplants®

MM: The right partner is a direct link to the grower, meaning you have that much less room for errors. In produce, we understand that the margin for error is slim-to-none, and finding that partner to link you directly to the field not only makes for better, clearer communication, but that anything happening between the field to the shelf is caught more quickly and efficiently.

What’s important to understand is that, ultimately, we aren’t looking to replace the “middleman,” for the sake of replacing it, we are looking to eliminate the need for one to exist. In other words, when partnered with the right companies, you don’t need a bird dog to select the best lots or a broker to coordinate those activities for you. By having the direct link to the farm, you can cut product age as it moves through the supply chain and by doing so, you would by default end up with fresher, better product.

"All of us, in the end, are trying to deliver the best quality because pleasing the customer is how you will drive sales."

-Matt Mandel

This is what we should be looking for at the end of the day: to ensure that you are partnered with the right people; focusing on quality, consistency, and improving the supply chain.

In doing so you improve the offering, which pleases your customers, creates value, and brings them back for more.

What can eliminating the need for a “middleman” mean for a buyer and its shoppers?

Perfect Bell Peppers®MM: The need for a middleman inevitably boosts cost, age, or both to your product, taking away freshness and shelf-life. This ultimately leads to poorer displays on the shelf and has a detrimental effect on shrink; things we on either side of the industry want to avoid.

All of us, in the end, are trying to deliver the best quality, because pleasing the customer is how you will drive consumption.

Different companies choose different models, what is important is to try to maintain the strongest link to the farm, which is the one tied to the growing of the product. Our trademark is “Perfect Produce” which is a huge promise to our customers, and one that we painstakingly work at living up to every single day. We try our best to ensure that we are that strong link our customers can rely upon and consistently keep that connection. It builds freshness and quality into our DNA, into everything we do.

As a consistent partner to your customers, where are SunFed's current investments focused? 

Perfect Yellow Squash®MM: In a move to be closer to the customers we partner with, we are in the process of constructing a facility in Pharr, TX. This facility will handle our continued growth and allow us to better service our customers in the Midwest and back East. This will also help to support the growth we are seeing during the times when we are counter-seasonal to our production we receive in Nogales, AZ. We have made key investments in growth for both our conventional and Perfect Organics® lines of product to improve our own out-of-stocks and ensure we can meet the needs of our partners on a year-round basis.

Operating in organic is no passing fancy; it takes true, consistent investment (both time and money) to research and be a player in this part of the industry. We are consistently focused on organic growth, having just expanded on our offerings with new lines of organic produce that we launched in December. This has been very well-received, and we continue to look at other opportunities to continue that. 

We’re also enhancing our organic labeling as a direct response to feedback from our retail partners. Better shelf displays, better brand recognition, and most importantly for our partners, a higher ring-through on the front end.

What should a buyer know about organic shopping and utilizing a company like SunFed?

Matt Mandel in the field.MM: We always listen to our partners and do our best to meet those needs, and that is true across everything we offer, including organics. With room for growth in the organic sector, this is the latest area where we are bringing our commitment to Perfect Produce. We are looking to help alleviate any pain points our partners might have while minimizing or eliminating issues within the supply chain. 

One of the ways we have actively looked to help partners capitalize on that growth and capture sales was looking to help clarify organic produce for cashiers in-store. Retailers were seeing an increase in organic demand and product, but not organic sales because it turns out about 40 percent of organics are mis-rung at the register. 

"We always listen to our partners and do our best to meet those needs."

-Matt Mandel

What we brought to our retail partners to help resolve this was the organic band, which shows the name of the product, the PLU, and the scan bar. Will it ultimately cure all the problems? Of course not, but we are confident it will improve the ring-through on the front end and help customers take advantage of organic sales. It’s through small things like this that we try to be the perfect partner.